Saturday, December 3, 2011

Captain Marvel, Peter David's Run Part 2

The Captain Marvel series was in trouble, and a dramatic reboot was done to give the series a second chance. In a contest dubbed "U-Decide", Captain Marvel and two other books would be released - and the one that sold the most copies would continue on, and the others would be canceled. Frankly it all seemed like an annoying stunt - but I was ok with it, if it meant one of my favorite series was going to continue. Suffice to say - Captain Marvel won the contest.

The most immediate change was the design of a new costume. Alex Ross re-designed the new look, using the Kree Armor the original Captain Marvel wore when he first appeared in comics. It was a radical stylistic departure - but it would ultimately serve to indicate how much Captain Marvel had truly changed.

Genis, possessing Cosmic Awareness, tried to extend and master his abilities. This wasn't a curve-ball, plot-wise, as it had always been a running plot thread that Captain Marvel didn't always have complete control over his abilities. Moondragon's telepathic help had guided Genis into becoming more skilled in it's use. So now Captain Marvel began seeing more and more of events surrounding him. It was random, chaotic - as his awareness bolted him from crisis to crisis; from an alien drug dealer to dealing with interstellar conflicts. Genis suddenly could see EVERYTHING happening in the universe! But it was all at once, completely out of his control -- and it drove him utterly insane.

Having now gone off the deep end, Captain Marvel killed people, interfered in almost anything he fancied - and sought to understand where he stands in the universe now. Is he a God? He can see everything - is more than willing to pass judgement on anyone.

Rick Jones became trapped by Captain Marvel - suddenly a prisoner on the other side in the Microverse. The relationship between Rick and Genis devolved more and more as the series went on. Rick was able to manage a bit of control over the Captain - by using their psychic connection to send a mind-blast to hurt Genis.

The first six issues where particularly pivotal. After going insane in the first issue, the second has him examining the morality of killing - and goes to the best source on the subject: The Punisher. Meanwhile in the Microverse Rick is trapped in an extremely cold and harsh environment. He's able to seek shelter in a cave - where he meets a mysterious grey skinned woman. This woman, named Epiphany, is very important for things to come.

Back in the regular universe Captain Marvel has interjected himself into the Kree army - killing a commanding officer and taking his place. Genis' motives for doing this seem to revolve around examining the structure of the people he comes from, but I think it's really just a plot revolving around the new costume that Captain Marvel adopts in these issues. During the course of events, including engaging the ticking off the Shi'ar Empire, Captain Marvel's supposed loyalty as a Kree soldier are tested - as he's ordered to execute a woman who has been found out as a Shi'ar spy. While insane and morally confused on every level - we see there are points where we see some kind of mortality on Genis' part. Instead of murdering the woman - he instead executes himself - firing his gun into his mouth.

Rick, meanwhile, he begun a relationship with Epiphany - which has inspired Rick's musical abilities. While traveling through the Microverse he develops a rockstar career playing the guitar. In the regular universe Captain Marvel, having just blown his brains out, is annoyed to find himself rising out of his own grave. In what may have been a delusion, or an actual experience with the afterlife, Genis finds himself encountering his dead father, Mar-Vell. While Genis certainly might have some father issues - his insane state only makes things worse. Mar-Vell is trying to talk sense to his son - to help him come back from the edge he's clearly gone over. They fight, with Genis beating his father to a bloody pulp - and ending it by dropping Genis' own grave upon him - crushing him. Genis falls over. only to then be greeted by luminous black and white being, dubbed Entropy.

Entropy is brother of Epiphany - and there's a reason they have engaged with Rick and Genis. Entropy, especially, wants Captain Marvel's help with something very important. It seems Entropy is the son of Eternity - a cosmic celestial being in the Marvel Universe who is suppose to embody the universe itself. Entropy wants to end the universe - something Genis is very keen to help with.

Issue #6, the end of the first arc, takes an existential turn - as it features Captain Marvel, Entropy, Epiphany, and Rick. It's one month later (I don't quite understand what happened inbetween, though.) They are all in an entire white void - with Captain Marvel having successfully destroyed the universe. Rick had failed to stop Captain Marvel, and is furious with him. Entropy loves the new experience of the universe having been destroyed. The nothingness is a new concept to Entropy - the first new concept he's ever encountered; as before all he had known was the universe, the universe being his father, Eternity. It strikes him that he should create something - but it's a foreign concept to him. Rick suggests he create what he knows, like any good writer/author would do. Yet where to begin? Captain Marvel has an answer for that:

"In the beginning."

Captain Marvel shoots Entropy in the head - creating the Big Bang. The explosion that ensues re-creates the Universe - and before them now stands Eternity; Entropy being the end and the beginning, has transformed into his father Eternity. Everything is the same as it once was - all except for Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel then finds himself waking up in the same location he had begun his journey in trying to master his Cosmic Awareness. I don't know wether this means that everything in the past 5 issues are moot now - but it ultimately doesn't matter. Captain Marvel is still insane - and Rick is still trapped with him.

The next two issues have Thor guest starring. This appearance by Thor seemed very appropriately timed - as it was during a time when Odin was dead, and Thor was made Lord of Asgard. Somewhat in parallel to how much Captain Marvel had changed - Thor had dramatically shifted gears as well - as he was now injecting Asgard and the Gods into mortal life. Playing God would ultimately be disastrous for Thor - but for right now it was a great time for Captain Marvel to visit, as he wanted to explore the idea of being a god. He had, after all, destroyed the universe and then re-created it.

The story had a lot of theological ideas knocked around, while a pair of Storm Giants attacked Asgard. After making a mess of Asgard himself, the fight against the Storm Giants was also escalating to a dangerous conclusion - which Captain Marvel could tell was coming with his Cosmic Awareness. After having his fun Captain Marvel granted Thor a glimpse into his Cosmic Awareness - to see how the escalating conflict would lead to the destruction of Asgard. Thor was even shown the origins of the Storm Giants' hatred for Asgard - how a promise to them had been broken ages ago. Thor decided to honor the agreement that had once been denied to these Storm Giants. One of them, though, was still angry and still wanted to destroy them - which is why Captain Marvel stepped in and shot him dead.

In the next story arc Captain Marvel witnesses troubles in the Justice system, as a criminal Rick had testified against years ago was set to be put to death. (Rick apparently had managed to make a deal with Genis, so he can leave the Microverse at times.) This man, Karl Coven, had claimed he was an alien - and couldn't be killed. The execution goes as planned - but Coven wakes up, alive and well. Despite his human appearance, Coven really is an alien - and after the ensuing legal battle to try and keep him in jail (even though he was successful executed) Captain Marvel became very interested in the law and the justice system. It was a strange yet thought provoking story.

The story, though, felt a little bit like a derailment - an attempt to do a story not exclusively dedicated to Captain Marvel's mental collapse. When the series was relaunched Peter David very much had Chriscross' dynamic art in mind - as Crisscross can draw an insane-looking face better than any other artist. It was a big disappointment to suddenly find that Chriscross was off the series. I don't know why Chriscross left - but apparently Peter David even thought about reversing directions, and going back to a sane Captain Marvel. (They had rebooted the Universe in the first story arc, after all.) Yet the insane-Captain Marvel storyline continued on ahead. Even though Chriscross was lost, they got some phenomenally talented people to take his place. The colorists for the series did an especially good job making the art look consistent, even though wildly different artists came in and did certain arcs.

While I enjoyed the artist who came in to fill the void, apparently some fans where growing tired of month-in-month-out "Captain Marvel is still insane". It's a valid point - but one I whole heartedly disagree with. While the stories might have meandered around to different subjects, without a clear idea of where it was all leading -- it missed the point of enjoying the examination Peter David was doing on all these various subjects, as seen through the warped lens of Captain Marvel. Peter David has always tackled important subjects, from political to theological - so for me this all seemed exactly what Peter David is best at.

Perhaps the most Peter David-esq story came up next - as he wrote a single issue that pretty much was a parallel to the War in Iraq, with Captain Marvel tormenting an alien leader, similar to George Bush, with antics both funny and dangerous. The story essentially entailed Captain Marvel killing a monstrous villain, Burstarr, and stopping him from attacking this planet. The people and the George Bush-like politician where extremely grateful to Captain Marvel. Graciousness that would not last - as, much like liberators in Iraq, Captain Marvel simply would not leave. It's not a point for point comparison between events in real life, but the commentary was clear. This was probably one the prime examples of Peter David injecting his opinions, especially his political opinions, into his story. I didn't like this issue when I first read it (I had different opinions about the war at the time.) Yet is strikes me now as a good issue to have been made.

In the next issue Captain Marvel suddenly found himself face to face with different versions of himself. Himself as Legacy, the sane Captain Marvel, and the insane one. You see, when the universe was rebooted - there where some holes left over in the fabric of reality. Rick was also meeting different version of his former self. For Rick its disappointing to see where he had come from, his reckless youth - and later trying to be a super hero/partner to Captain America. Rick's younger selves don't necessarily like where Rick is right now either, and what his life has become.

For Captain Marvel it was depressing to see his younger self, Legacy, drunk and irresponsible; the sane Captain Marvel was even more disappointed, seeing a preview of what kind of monster he would one day become. The insane Captain Marvel suggests that if his sane counter-part wants to stop it -- all he has to do is shoot Legacy. Eventually these universal aberrations go away - but the insightful look into who they are and where they have been in life was fascinating.

A change for Captain Marvel's status quo, though, was on the way in the next major arc. It involved the Kree, Skrull, and Shi'ar Empires coming to the same conclusion that something had to be done about the mad Captain. A surprising figure stepped forward, from Genis' home world the Moon Titan: that of Genis' mother, Elysius. This is especially surprising because I believe Elyius is suppose to be dead, but suddenly isn't. Elysius urges Captain Marvel to let them help him him. Captain Marvel is not pleased about this, so he escapes and goes to visit his father's memorial grave. He rants at the grave, proclaiming that Mar-Vell had somehow set her up to this.

Epiphany suddenly appears and greeted Captain Marvel. She had since disappeared after Entropy's destruction and rebirth as Eternity -- and claimed she was there to thank him for his help before. They eventually begin a relationship together. Wether Rick's experience with Epiphany was erased or not, I'm not sure. He was pretty busy being a rockstar and nearly dying during this time; something Captain Marvel may have engineered himself, having grown tried of Rick's complaining. Supposedly Captain Marvel used their psychic bond to influence Rick's mind to have him kill himself. Later the Captain resurrected Rick. It's not addressed immediately - but it becomes clear that Rick cannot see Epiphany there. Is Captain Marvel imagining her there?

It became a moot point, though, when Captain Marvel returned to his home planet, the Moon Titan, to deal with his family. To Genis' surprise a female Captain Marvel greeted him, attacking and trying to take him down. This woman is named Phyla, which Captain Marvel both knows, yet doesn't know. Phyla is Genis sister -- and Captain Marvel's confusion is understandable, since up to now Captain Marvel has always been a single child. It's eventually revealed that when the universe was rebooted, a few things where added and subtracted. Captain Marvel's mother is suddenly alive - and instead of raising and developing one child with Mar-Vell's DNA, Elysius created two children.

Along with Phyla and other members of Captain Marvel's family - they hounded and confronted Genis with all of his actions and misdeeds. They showed him how fractured he had made the universe, and all the damage he was doing -- and addressed the real issue at the heart of it all: Is Captain Marvel really crazy? Clinically insane? Epiphany, unseen by anyone, continually counters their arguments; though seeing someone who isn't there is never a sign of good mental health. They eventually come to a conclusion, that while the unfiltered explosion of information his Cosmic Awareness had caused him to behave as he had - he's still technically sane. His reactions to everything is more the reaction to truly not caring anymore, about anything - because all the possible futures Genis constantly sees now simply consumed him.

Captain Marvel, after having been mentally beat down, is somewhat recovered. Genis even takes on a new costume - similar to his original star-faced costume, but with gray coloring instead of red. (It was a good look; a return to form, but without leaving unaddressed what has happened.) The Kree, Skrulls, and Shi'ar are satisfied with the results - and that his family would keep an eye on Captain Marvel for now.

So Captain Marvel is now sane again (or at least saner). Yet Epiphany is still seen by Genis, telling him that he is still insane; just that for now he's going to play it much closer to the vest.

The next story arc seemed like a new era - one that surprisingly took us into various different future eras. You see - a super powered version of Marlo suddenly returns to Rick's life, having supposedly come from a far distant future to kill Genis, and also Rick for not having stopped Captain Marvel. Whatever had been done to Marlo, to make her young for so long, and give her powers, was also burning her out - as she failed in her mission and died. Rick is heart broken - and wants to find out what had happened, and who in the future had done this to her.

Going into the future Captain Marvel and Rick find a future Earth ruined and decimated. One of Captain Marvel's most powerful predictions, through his cosmic awareness, was what would happen if the Shi'ar, Skrulls, and Kree ever banded together on common ground - and enslaved Earth. Rick and Captain Marvel eventually encounter an older Genis, and his son Ely. They had a future Marlo in stasis - apparently her having succumbed to a disease, and putting her in stasis being the only option to save her. Captain Marvel is able to use the Nega-Bands (which both young and old Genis had), and was able to merge with his older self. It would be temporary - but it gave Captain Marvel twice the cosmic power he now had; and since he was all-powerful right now, this merging gave him the ability to scare off all the aliens off of Earth, saving the human race.

Time jumping again, since this future had not yet revealed everything that happened to Marlo, Captain Marvel is surprised to find that a statue had been erected in his honor, and had since been vilified in recent years as well, with the statue defaced. Genis is able to find his son again - who hates with father as well. Having him be absent from his life, and then appearing every once in a while down the time line has left Ely bitter and angry; and dangerous. And while Captain Marvel had driven the aliens off of Earth, the pro-Earther mentality had consequences down the line. The two of them argued with each other, with Rick eventually switching places with Captain Marvel so that Rick could beat Ely up. In a shocking twist Ely grabs Rick's Nega-Bands, and used some unknown technique to jolt Rick forward through time, leaving the Nega-Bands behind.

Meanwhile, it has to be noted that Marlo and Moondragon are focused on, in the present, during this entire arc. Apparently one of Captain Marvel's enemies, Magus, has been effecting Moondragon.

In the even more further future Rick awakes to find himself in a vast desert where once the statue of Captain Marvel stood. History had gone horribly wrong, especially for Ely. He had learned how to effect the Nega-Bands the way he had by non other than Magus. Marlo has since been released from stasis and cured - and given super powers. Possessing the stolen Nega-Bands, Ely was made aware of Rick's arrival and met him in the desert near where the Titanic now lay.

Giving Rick another pair of Nega-Bands (having been stolen from Phyla's dead body in years past), Rick is able to switch with Captain Marvel again. This is what Ely has wanted, having spend years and years, mastering powers and doing very evil things to become stronger -- all to punish his father. Ely wants to initiate the biggest battle ever conceived - something that would not only destroy the Earth, but leave a mark on the entire universe. Using his stolen Nega-Bands, and with the Magus' knowledge, Ely has become powerful enough to do just that. That's where the biggest and most shocking surprise of the entire series happens. Instead of fighting against his son, Captain Marvel decides on something else. Ely screams for him to stop, pleading that he'll change; Ely is disappearing, being erased from time.

It's a classic morality question: if you could kill Hitler, in his crib when he was a baby, would you do it, knowing all the evil he would do if he grew up? Captain Marvel made this very choice, knowing that when he invariably would return to his own time, that he would live on and have children. Captain Marvel vowed to kill Ely, in his crib as a baby, to stop all the evil he would do as an adult. This was a dark and damning moment -- and while there are all sorts of questions about better options, like trying to raise Ely better, or something like that -- it really comes down to that morality question about Hitler. If you had the chance, would you kill Hitler in his crib as a baby? For Captain Marvel, the answer was yes.

While in the future there where more clues and revelations about what was coming up in future plotlines -- like that Moondragon was seen alongside the Magus, a villain against Captain Marvel. It felt like this time-traveling story arc was only a prelude of things to come. Yet after 26 issues the series was canceled. Supposedly the insane Captain Marvel plotline had gone on too long, especially without Chriscross' art; and even though it had somewhat ended, it was simply too late, with sales dropping. Peter David had one final issue to wrap everything up - and he chose probably one of the more clever ways to do it.

On a base Captain Marvel had previously set up one of the Moons of Saturn (to be base of operations, but still close to his family on Titan), Captain Marvel sat at a desk, at a silent telephone, waiting for a call. Any emergencies that Captain Marvel could help with - where suppose to come in through here. Yet no one was calling.

A very obscure character showed up, however, with the announcement that things where over. This character had been in the series, in the background, since the beginning - as the manager of Marlo and Rick's Comic Book store. It's revealed that this once unassuming guy was actually a cosmic entity, dubbed Eulogy. (Along with Epiphany, Entropy, and Eternity, it became clear that this was all a homage to DC's Sandman series, mirroring the Endless, all characters beginning with the letter D. For Marvel, here the characters all start with "E".) Eulogy explained to the Captain that no one needed him anymore. No one cared. Captain Marvel kept insisting that someone was going to call, at some point. Eulogy said no; people had simply moved on. Eulogy began packing up all the supplies, furniture - everything; clearing it all out, like the dismantling of a set when a TV show is canceled.

The adventure through time had reunited Rick with with Marlo - and with Eulogy coming to wrap everything up, another entity was introduced to put a bow on everything. Dubbed "Expediency", any only seen as hands on a key board, plot lines where quickly tied up. Suddenly Marlo wasn't gay - and she was getting back together with Rick. Rick was also freed from his Nega-Bands and allowed to return to his normal life. All that was left was for Captain Marvel to step through a door and leave. Captain Marvel kept insisting that someone was still out there, and that someone would call. Eventually, though, he walked through the door. The phone began ringing.

That final issue, while very "Meta", examining the failures and struggles of the series, was out of place - but welcome, and honest, giving a bittersweet end to the series.

Captain Marvel would remain in the Marvel Universe, though, joining the Thunderbolts team; supposedly he joined to be a hero again, and make up for his insane actions. A new costume was developed, and Genis even took on a new title as Photon. I only read the first few issues - and later Genis apparently died, heroically giving his life and redeeming himself; but it all felt horribly contrived. For the past few years this C-List hero of the Marvel Universe was developed into an A-Class Villain, which seemed rife with so much potential. But, like it was shown, no one was calling that phone.

Even thought it didn't end as well as it could have - I felt very satisfied with what had been made up to that point. Yes, I would have liked to have seen the series continue - but it at least was given a second chance to begin with.

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